Major appointments are coming fast and furious from the Trump transition team, including attorney general, national security adviser and CIA director. Now there are signs that one of the most important picks may be coming soon.
Bloomberg News reported Friday that President-elect Donald Trump has narrowed his choices for defense secretary down to retired four-star generals James Mattis and Jack Keane. Mattis is scheduled to meet with Trump this weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J. Keane has already met with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York City.
Keane served as vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army and after he retired was the intellectual force behind the so-called surge in Iraq that many believe helped turn the Sunni insurgency around there. He is well known in military circles as the mentor of David Petraeus, the legendary general and former CIA director who fell from grace amid revelations that he had leaked classified information to his personal biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having an extramarital affair. One former Pentagon official who has worked closely with both men predicts that Petraeus will have an outsize influence on Keane if he becomes defense secretary.
“They have a mind meld,” the source said.
Mattis was a hard-charging general who often made the Obama White House nervous when he served as head of U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the wars in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. He occasionally clashed with Obama’s advisers about how aggressively to target militants in Yemen, and the White House often tried to keep Mattis on a tight leash. Mattis was eventually pushed out of his command to make room for Gen. Lloyd Austin, the first African-American to head CentCom. Mattis felt “badly wounded by the Obama administration,” said a retired general who served closely with him.
When Yahoo News reached out to Mattis earlier this week and asked him about the rumors that he was in the running to be defense secretary, he declined to comment.
“I’m one of the those generals who stays out of the news,” he said.
Here’s a description of Mattis from my 2012 book, “Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency”:
Even among combat-hardened veterans Mattis was known as an unusually fierce war fighter. A gruff Marine in the Hollywood mold, his nicknames included “Chaos” and Mad Dog. Mattis had a warrior-scholar side to him. He was known to pack the Meditations of the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius before departing for battle. But occasionally his loose tongue revealed a cruder side. “It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot … people,” he’d remarked at a forum about Afghanistan in 2005. “It’s a hell of a hoot.”